Sunday, October 04, 2009

The Wizard of Oz - 70th Anniversary Edition DVD Review

All right, let's jump into this...

MGM's The Wizard of Oz has enjoyed a long life in movie theaters, on television, and, through the past 30 years, home video. From VHS to laserdisc to DVD, it's appeared on every home video format. Just last Tuesday, it made it's Blu-Ray debut, continuing its pattern of continuing on into the next home video format.

However, I did not buy the Blu-Ray, as I am not equipped with HD playback hardware. I did, however, get the DVD.

This is the first DVD release to have the film and special features encompass four discs. Most DVD releases use dual-layer (or DVD-9) discs, which can usually present four hours of high-quality video, but usually, most releases restrict it to about three.

Owners of the 2005 3-disc release will be struck with Deja Vu as they pop in the first disc. The menus are the same as that release, the only new special feature being a singalong feature.

The other difference from this and the 2005 disc is that the version of the movie used is different. This is taken from the new high-definition restoration, but as there is only so much DVD can show, the restoration is likely best appreciated on Blu-Ray. Here, the historic feel of the film is restored by retaining the film grain. However, there have been some touch-ups done. Some wires have been removed. (E.g. The wire animating the Cowardly Lion's tail, which I didn't notice until the 2005 release, was visible during "If I Were King Of The Forest" but has now been removed.) Overall, the way the film looks is excellent, but I'm not ready to pitch my copy of the 2005 release yet.

I found it odd that one special feature on Disc 1 was simply repeated: "Prettier Than Ever: The Restoration Of Oz" relates how the film was restored for the 2005 release. As this is a completely new restoration, the retaining of this feature feels odd.

Another odd thing is that while the supporting cast of The Wizard of Oz is profiled in a series of features called We Haven't Really Met Properly, no biographical information about the star, Judy Garland, is presented anywhere on the set. Also retained is an animated storybook adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, narrated by Angela Lansbury and using the original illustrations by W.W. Denslow, the audio commentary, as well as an isolated score and effects track, and the original mono audio track.

The singalong feature, for most viewers and movie collectors, is not of much interest. You can choose to watch the movie with subtitles that change color in time with the songs, or watch clips with the songs and the subtitles running.

Disc 2 is a complete copy of the second disc of the 2005 editions, down to the menus. All of the special features are the same. As this is also the second disc of the special 2-disc release, it offers an array of special features that would make a 2-disc set satisfying. Notable features are The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: The Making of a Movie Classic, Memories of Oz, Because of the Wonderful Things It Does: The Legacy of Oz, deleted scenes (though only one, an extended version of "If I Only Had A Brain," is a true deleted scene), test footage, trailers, and a variety of audio-only features.

Disc 3 offers new material for owners of the 2005 3-disc set. First off is a career profile of director Victor Fleming, the director who received the sole screen credit for The Wizard of Oz. Given that it encompasses his entire career, and not just Oz, I was expecting it to also appear on Gone With The Wind's upcoming release. I've since discovered that it is not listed among the features on that release.

Also new is a 10-minute segment covering the Munchkins receiving their star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It's a great tribute to what may sadly be one the diminutive actors' last big events.

Then, there's the movie The Dreamer of Oz from 1990. This has never been released to home video, but the copy Warner Brothers procured for the release was sadly not of the highest quality. There's a flickering scan line effect going on, and the picture almost looks double-exposed, with one exposure slightly off register, and a little faint. It is a watchable release, however.

The Dreamer of Oz follows L. Frank Baum from the time he met Maud Gage to the success of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. It is told by Maud Gage Baum at the premiere of the 1939 movie to a reporter who recognizes her. (The 1939 scenes are in black and white, while the scenes retelling Baum's life are in color.) However, the movie is a dramatization of someone's life, and as usual, many points are fictionalized. Perhaps I find these more irritating than most viewers would, as I've done a lot of research about Baum and his works, but I tend to take Dreamer only for entertainment value.

The disc is rounded out with three features from 2005's third disc: the 1910 Wonderful Wizard of Oz silent film, Ted Eshbaugh's 1933 Wizard of Oz cartoon, and a documentary about Baum's life that made its debut on the 2005 set.

Disc four is Warner Brother's version of a DVD set that has been released and re-released by many different companies: it presents the four silent features based on the Oz stories.

The Patchwork Girl of Oz was the first film produced by the Oz Film Manufacturing Company, and here, you get a clean transfer. However, the feature has not been scored, and the elegant title screen, missing or marred in other releases, is shown darkly (although it is seen clearly in disc 3's Baum documentary).

The Magic Cloak of Oz is actually an adaptation of Baum's Queen Zixi of Ix, given a bit of an Oz connection in name only. (The book was part of Baum's extended Oz universe, so it's not too much of a stretch.) Warner's release here now offers the longer version that has been previously only been in private collections and screened at Oz conventions. It is longer with more shots, and some humorous scenes. Sadly, it shares Patchwork Girl's problem of no scoring, and the transfer is rather dark, and some intertitles are very hard to read.

The other two features, His Majesty, The Scarecrow of Oz from 1914, and the 1925 silent fiasco The Wizard of Oz from Larry Semon, are directly ported over from the 2005 sets, with scorings. An improvement over the last set is that chapter breaks are now present for all the silent features.

There is also a digital copy disc with a standard definition copy of the MGM movie. I have not evaluated this, as I do not have a portable video device and do not intend to keep the movie on my computer.

The four discs are housed in folding case, that lists the special features, is colored mainly in green and silver, and decorated with a photograph, artwork, and some quotes. Each of the discs shows Dorothy and one of her four friends as she met them.

When it comes to new material, some owners of the 2005 3-disc may feel disappointed, or put off of getting this set.

There were several printed materials included with the 2005 3-disc Collector's Edition, but none of these are reproduced here. Instead, we have a scaled-down reproduction of the original lavish campaign book for advertising aid to promote the film, the production budget is reproduced, and there is a 52-page full-color book by John Fricke about the production of the film, something, he even notes, has already been very well documented. My copy had some weird black streaks on some of the pages. There is also the watch in a tin. With a green strap, it has a beautiful faceplate. (My wrists are too large for it, though.)

This is all housed in a lavish box decorated with publicity photographs. The box set containing the DVDs can be lifted out and stored on a shelf (and the 2005 3-disc Collector's Edition can be put in its place).

Overall, a nice package!

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